Healing together to the rhythm of music

This text is part of the special Acfas Congress notebook

The health benefits of music, whether physical, mental, emotional or social, are numerous. This is all the more the case when the approach is community-based.

Imagine an online choir. If we first think of a joyful cacophony, Anna Zumbansen, assistant professor and deputy director of the Institute for Research in Music and Health (IRMS) at the University of Ottawa and co-responsible for the conference The health benefits of music: towards an accessible and community approach at 91e Acfas congress, gives a completely different story. “I am going to present during the conference a study that I conducted on an online choir of people who have Alzheimer’s type dementia, and it is interesting to document it because there were several reasons to say that it was not feasible… except that the participants are satisfied with it,” she explains.

With her team, the researcher went in search of testimonies to better understand the success of this online choir which has around ten people and a choir director, who is the only one to have his microphone open, while the participants sing. with their microphone closed. “Hearing yourself sing with the whole group, which is impossible in the context of an online choir, is not experienced as an insurmountable problem for the participants because the advantages outweigh the disadvantages,” says Anna Zumbansen.

In fact, the pleasure of music, but also that of community, sharing and social support, takes precedence. “We also found that a majority of participants with dementia had had musical experience in the past, so they have a particular sensitivity to singing despite the circumstances,” she adds.

For his part, Gilles Comeau, co-leader of the conference, founding director of the IRMS and professor at the University of Ottawa School of Music, is interested in dementia with an approach of music and movement. “We have worked to observe memory loss when Alzheimer’s begins, for example. We noticed that even during the period of deterioration and cognitive loss, it is still possible to learn,” he explains.

According to him, from the start of musical activities in movement, there is, among other things, real learning and progression in terms of listening skills, moving around, playing with the rest of the group. “Participants can respond with improvised movements, hear more and more complex and refined rhythms and reproduce them or use rhythmic instruments,” says the professor, who also mentions positive repercussions on well-being, emotions and mental health in general. But be careful not to confuse its approach with music therapy. “It’s different, because music therapy helps people who have received a diagnosis, whereas we work with music educators first. »

Social contact

The community aspect of Gilles Comeau’s approach to music and movement is also essential. “Since family members, such as spouses or children, can be involved, we observe an impact on them, because this joyful and stimulating activity is beneficial for these caregivers,” he says. The teacher also highlights a tendency to maintain activity when music and movement are combined. “Very often, it concerns a disadvantaged or marginalized audience, for whom music is something new,” he notes. It becomes accessible much more easily. »

This is particularly the case of a residence in Ontario which houses several populations, including immigrants and elderly people, whom he observed. “These people did not communicate before the music and movement activity and it triggered a social contact that they maintained even if they do not speak the same language,” indicates Gilles Comeau.

And Anna Zumbansen continues: “At the moment, we collectively realize how important it is to study the effects of community music on health because it concerns a very large population. » If spontaneously, we think more about the effects of music on mental health, on mood, the professor wants to go further by studying more precise aspects. “With people with aphasia, there is something striking and spectacular: although they may be completely mute, unable to articulate a single word when they speak, suddenly when they sing a familiar song, they utter the words with incredible ease,” she says. This is a question of melodic therapy, the aim of which is that this effect is transferred to normal speech. Regardless, “there is still a lot of fascinating work to be done in the field of community music,” concludes Anna Zumbansen.

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